Jul 17

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies

The other day I wanted something other than fruit; with summer in full swing we are indulging in all the super ripe summer fruits. Berries, apricots, nectarines, cherries – we have been helping ourselves to handfuls at a time. They are super sweet and tart, while being so juicy their nectar can barely be contained when slicing them. It feels so good to be enjoying all the natural wonders of summer like this. But sometimes I feel like being naughty! By naughty I mean, indulging in something sweet and decadently chewy instead of all that summer stone fruit and berries.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

So in the morning I made some brown butter and set it aside for cooling. Have you had brown butter before? I have heard it referred to as a gift of the culinary gods! But all that it is is butter that is left over a low flame until it is melted and the solids of the butter separate from the fat and it begins to “toast” and turns the loveliest deeply golden color. Brown butter possesses a slightly nutty aroma and flavor to it as well. It is fantastic to drizzle over steamed veggies, or to sauté a light piece of fish in it. As if that is not enough to do with it, add brown butter to a cookie or cake recipe and the flavor of that recipe creates a depth that exceeds normal butter. I would not say you should go around and replace brown butter in every baking recipe you have, but in certain items it makes it sublime.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

With the brown butter made and cooled to room temperature I opted to whip up some Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies. They were moist, chewy, with a slightly crisp outer layer, while the interior was “almond-y“ and nutty from the brown butter. It was a perfect break away from the usual summer fruit. The blondies were great with some tea, and may I admit – even better as breakfast! This recipe is baked in a 9 by 13 inch pan, so depending on how you cut it you can end up with about fifteen pieces. More than enough to share and even more than enough to be naughty with. That is if you chose to eat them on your own; but I must admit, I enjoy them more when shared!

Chewy and Yummy!

Chewy and Yummy!

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies (makes about 15)

1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons sea salt

1 ¾ cups packed light-brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

1 ¼ cup almond slivers, toasted

First, place a small heavy bottomed pot (at least a quart or two in size) over medium low heat and place your butter within it. Keeping a close eye on it, because it can burn very easily. It will melt, then it will foam a bit, before it will slowly start to “toast” and turn amber like in color. Once the color is achieved remove it from the heat and let cool. You can place it in a bowl if you wish, or it can remain in the pan. It will be fine at room temperature for the day, (you can wrap it up and store it in the refrigerator until its use). For this recipe you will want to have the browned butter at room temperature.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer place your browned butter, brown sugar, and sugar in it. Mix it all together with the paddle attachment until pale in color and fluffy. To this add 1 egg at a time until it is thoroughly mixed before adding the next one. Scraping it down between them all. To this add your vanilla and almond extract and mix evenly.

Then; in a separate bowl add both of the flours, baking powder, and sea salt. Whisk it together and add it to your butter and egg mixture and mix it well, until it is even. To this add 1 cup of your toasted almonds and fold together. Pour the batter in your prepared pan and over the top sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of almonds. Place it in the center of your oven and bake about 40 – 45 minutes, rotating it half way through.

Finally, once your Blondie appears golden and slightly firm you can remove and let cool about 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Can be wrapped in the pan or removed to a plate or platter and covered with plastic wrap. These Blondies can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days.

Jul 12

Beet Cured Salmon (Gravlax)

I have been strategizing as to what we can eat that does not warm up the apartment leaving us with our t-shirts sticking to us. Because when I do end up like that it leads to us sitting in front of our one fan to cool off with my hair curling to a point of no return.  The temperature out has not been too bad. In fact I have truly been enjoying the summer afternoons out and about. The sky has been the loveliest shade of blue. Yet, I have learned that it is only getting warmer.  What is a girl supposed to do?

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

I ended up curing some salmon this past week. There is no heat involved in that!  I got the recipe from a book I picked up while we were in London. It is called “Salt Sugar Smoke” by Diana Henry. If you have not guessed, it is all about preserving in every shape and form. I have loved reading it and putting it to use; so far the recipes from it have been great. The recipe for preserving the salmon really peaked my interest and part of the reason why I purchased the book to begin with.  You see it involves lots of dill, sugar, salt, and beets. Yes, beets! You mix it all together and pat it along the salmon. You wrap it up and place something a bit heavy on it and let it rest (cure) for a few days in the refrigerator. You then uncover it and viola – it is ready!!!

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Salmon after curing.

Salmon after curing.

Could it be any easier? Other than planning ahead, I don’t think so. How to serve the cured salmon was now the question. I decided on a traditional rout of bagels, cream cheese, capers, onion, cucumber, and lettuce. But why I opted to make my own bagels in this heat? I really have no answer other than I wanted the challenge. So in the late afternoon I was boiling water to make bagels. The kitchen grew humid and my hair’s natural curl crept in to make an appearance. After boiling them you bake them. Bake them in an oven preheated to 425 degrees. (So much for that easy and cool dinner.) The bagels were delicious, but the overall recipe needs more tweaking. I will be doing that once things cool down outside. Until then I hope you enjoy the salmon recipe. The beets are quite mild in flavor but lend their intensity of color. It is the dill you taste overall with an undertone of sweetness followed by a hint of saltiness. Quite perfect for a summer evening, as we sit in front of the fan and enjoy our dinner.  Other than the obvious, it is great and impressive to grace a table for a brunch. If you end up giving the recipe a try feel free to eat the cured salmon any way you wish, but believe me – it just might be best in this heat to go out and purchase the bagels.

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Beet Cured Salmon (serves 14)

*recipe from the book- Salt Sugar Smoke by, Diana Henry

2 lbs 12 oz of Salmon, tail pieces in two halves (filleted but skin left on)

6 tbsp of Vodka

4 ½ oz of Sugar

3 1/3 oz of Sea Salt

2 tbsp of Black Pepper, coarsely ground

1 large bunch of Dill, roughly chopped

14 oz of Beets. peeled and grated

First, check your salmon to be sure it is clean and no pin bones remain. You can check this by running your fingers over the salmon to see if you feel any bones remaining. If so you can remove them with a tweezers.

Next, line a large platter or dish with foil. (I used a rimmed baking sheet.) With your salmon halves skin side down rub the flesh evenly with the vodka. In a bowl place your sugar, sea salt, dill, black pepper, and beets. Toss it all together well.  Lay one half of your salmon skin side down on the foil. Top it with your dill and beet mixture and pat it down. Place the other half of your salmon over it, flesh side down (facing the dill and beet mixture). Wrap your foil up and around your salmon halves to completely cover it. You are looking to overall cover the salmon with the foil. If it does not cover it completely don’t worry. You can use more foil to cover it. Place the foil covered salmon on your dish or platter and place a weight on it (like a can or two of food); you are just looking to “weight it down” slightly. Place it in the refrigerator and rotated it every day or so replacing the weight on top with each turn. Some liquid might spill out, that is fine and normal. Just drain it off.

Finally, after about 4 days to a week you can remove the salmon from the refrigerator. Unwrap it carefully and remove all the dill-beet mixture. Once you scrape it clean you are ready to slice and serve. When slicing run a very sharp knife along the flesh and cutting it in thin pieces, away from the skin.

***Note: if not using right away the cured salmon can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the refrigerator before slicing and serving. 

Jul 03

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

The Seattle streets have been busy, the sun has been shining, the days are long, and the warm weather is here. This past weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the Pride Parade. We are fortunate that it goes right by our apartment. We watched from our window a bit, and then headed down to the street to watch it all go by. It was so colorful and exciting. The parade was huge this year being it was a big anniversary and we got some sun as we stood there contently entertained as it passed us by. Brian put on sunblock, but still ended up with a light burn. I guess that is the price you pay for living in predominantly cloud covered city. When the sun does come out to shine, it leaves its mark.

Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

All this sunshine and warmer weather makes it harder deciding what to cook. I mean it is quite common not to get air conditioning throughout the city, even harder in our building knowing it was built in 1914. Not that I am complaining, this is nothing in comparison to the 115 degree heat (or higher) we experienced in Phoenix. Although, it does make me consider what to make for dinner by how long it will have to “cook” and how warm it will make our apartment. I walked down to Pikes Place Market and weaved and darted between the tourists to get to a fish counter I like. I picked up some salmon for curing (it should be ready in a few days) and some scallops for Brian. I figured we could grill the scallops outside and whip up an easy Black Bean and Corn Salad. The salad takes no time to whip up and is supper cool and refreshing to eat. This salad is great to make even a day ahead of time as I think it improves as it sits and the flavors develop a bit as they marinate together.

Now let me be completely honest; I am not showing a picture of the scallops with the salad for a simple reason. I went down to our court yard where the grill is and I lit it waiting for it to get about 400 – 500 degrees. I scraped it down and cleaned it well before placing my scallops on. Have you ever had to share a cooking space like a grill with others? It isn’t always “pretty” as others tend to forget to clean up after themselves. After I prepared the grill I placed the scallops on. As the scallops sizzled and began to “drip” it ignited a huge flame over the whole grill. It seems there were too many drippings at the bottom of the grill that the previous users did not clean out or burn off. I was standing there staring into the huge raging flame that engulfed the few scallops I had cooking for Brian. Rest assures the scallops were fine as I was darting my hand and tongs in and out of the massive flame with hopes I didn’t burn myself. In a bit of time and panic we got the flame under control. I had this vision that the scallops would be shriveled bits only after the fire department was called. As it turns out they were just “blackened” a bit from all the carbon. Brian insisted they still tasted great- they just didn’t look all that pretty. But the salad was bright in flavor, bright in color, pretty to look at, and delicious to eat. We made them as lettuce wraps, but this is just as great to eat on its own. It is the perfect summer food. No real cooking involved (or danger of a grill) and cool it eat!

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad (serves 6)

1 can (15 oz) of Black Beans, drained and rinsed well

1 can (15 oz) of corn, drained and rinsed well

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped small

½ small onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1 cup of feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup of olive oil

3-4 tbsp of red wine vinegar

¼ tsp of cayenne pepper (to taste really, using your judgment)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Lettuce leaves, like romaine or butter; cleaned and patted dry

Sour cream, optional

First; in a large mixing bowl place your black beans, corn, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Toss it together well. Over the top of it sprinkle your olive oil, red wine vinegar, a bit of your cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper. And toss again.

Next; sprinkle in your feta and toss again. (I like to leave the feta till almost last. You want it to marinate together, but with all the tossing the more it can break down too finely.) Cover it and place in the refrigerator about an hour or overnight.

Finally; when ready to serve, toss again and taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. You might want to add more cayenne pepper…you have to wait and see as the flavor might “bloom” as it sits. Also adjust the sea salt and black pepper. Serve next to the lettuce leaves and sour cream so guests can assemble as they like.

Jun 26

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

About two weeks ago I came home on a Sunday afternoon; it was over cast with a constant breeze coming through the window. I will admit that for the beautiful weather we were having this was odd. Although, the month of June here in Seattle is known as the “June Gloom”…this chill felt off kilter. Why the whole week prior it was in the 70’s and I was indulging in long walks with the girls to soak up the sun. I needed to warm myself up as the apartment was chilly, and my stomach was rumbling. I looked over what I had and knew the perfect thing to make would be Vodka Sauce.

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

Pasta and Vodka Sauce

Several years ago I was watching Ina Garten on the Food network and she was cooking with this chef from a restaurant in the Hamptons. They said that this was one of their most popular dishes at the restaurant and after watching them make it together I just had to make it for myself. You see they took the Vodka and reduced it in the pan then add their tomatoes only to place a lid on the pan and place it in a 375 degree oven to roast together for an hour and a half. You then follow up pureeing it, only to add cream and fresh oregano to it. The result is a sauce that is so velvety smooth and rich. I coats the pasta wonderfully and its flavor is so deep with a light heat to it. It was perfect for the June Gloom.

The tomatoes after roasting in the oven.

The tomatoes after roasting in the oven.

So while Brian was watching the finally to “The Game of Thrones” I had the oven going and was roasting those tomatoes. By the time the tomatoes were done and my pot of water was boiling for the pasta, Brian’s show was almost over. Perfect timing! We sat down to a bowl each of the Pasta and Vodka Sauce and Brian grinned. We both agreed it has been too long since I had made it last, but it was so good again it made up for lost time! I know a bowl of pasta may not be the perfect dish for “summer” but it was fitting with the overcast June Gloom day we were experiencing. Not to mention the left overs were just as good.  Hopefully you will be as smitten with this recipe as we were. Happy summer to you! Hopefully it will not be too gloomy!

 

Vodka Sauce finished and awaiting its pasta!

Vodka Sauce finished and awaiting its pasta!

Pasta and Vodka Sauce (serves 8)

*this recipe is adapted from Ina Garter of the Barefoot Contessa where she cooks with a chef from Nick and Toni’s. This recipe serves a lot, but can easily be cut in half.

1/3 cup of olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped small

3 cloves of garlic, chopped small

¾ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes

1 ½ tsp of dries oregano

1 cup of vodka

2 (28 oz) cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand

Sea Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 cup of heavy cream

4 tbsp of fresh oregano

Parmesan Cheese for grating

1 ½ pounds of pasta (penne, Rigatoni, Fusilli, etc.)

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Place a large sauté pan with a fitted over medium heat. Add your onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. You are looking for the onion to become transparent, not browning. You may then add your garlic, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper. Sauté together about another minute longer.

Next, add your vodka and let it all simmer until the mixture is reduced my half. Add your tomatoes and stir it well. Place a lid over it all and place it carefully into the oven for about 1 ½ hours. When time is up carefully remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.

Meantime, place a large pot of salted water over high heat.

Then, when your tomatoes are cooled you can place them in a blender or food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and thick sauce. Return it to the pan and place over a low flame. By now your water is probably boiling and cook the pasta until it is al dente.

Finally, add the cream and fresh oregano to the sauce and heat through. Season with Sea salt and black pepper to your taste. Stir it well and add a little bit at a time to your pasta and toss. You want to coat the pasta and then have extra to serve it with. Add about a ¼ cup of the parmesan when mixing and serve the rest for guests to help themselves when eating.

 

Jun 16

Indian Dal (Lentil Soup)

Over a week ago a friend of mine posted a picture on Instagram. It was of a beautiful bowl of Dal. Just looking at her bowl of lentils was enticing; I knew what I was making that weekend. So on Sunday afternoon I gathered my lentils, ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and spices. I simmered it all together on the stove until the lentils were tender, and our home smelt exotic. It was quite breezy out and this warm bowl of Dal with a refreshing Raita to accompany it was perfect. Not to mention its deep orange huge is extremely pretty to look at as it sits waiting for you to dig into it.

Dal with Raita, Rice, and Lime on the side.

Dal with Raita, Rice, and Lime on the side.

I really love a good lentil dish; I find it really hard to pass up. Same goes for Indian food- I adore it. This dish takes these two things plus a depth of flavor and spice that I crave after. It is also what makes me go after Indian food time and time again; I just feel I can never get enough of it! I have tried many variations of Dal over the years, but I always go back to the first recipe I tried on my own. It is from The Joy of Cooking that I have adapted a bit over time to get this recipe to where there is heat from the chili, depth to the spices, richness in its texture, and a freshness of herbs in its finished taste combined into a pure pleasurable occurrence. I promise you once you taste it for yourself you will keep helping yourself to more…as I did with the leftovers all this week.

I do understand that a spicy dish, for example one with chili and ginger may intimidate some into trying this recipe. But be assured that you can adapt it to your own liking. Don’t skimp out on the ingredients but make it your own. For example, use less ginger and only add chili to sprinkle in at the end to your own liking. In experience; you can always add spices and herbs to build up to a flavor profile that pleases you. It is hard to remove it as heat and the intensity of flavor that does build as it simmered together over time. Do not let the ingredients intimidate you, but bring it to where you will enjoy it. I have thanked my friend for her picture and inspiration for our dinner. I just hope that I can do the same here as you look at this beautiful Dal. Trust me on this one, smelling the aroma and enjoying this dish will make you feel like you are someplace extraordinary.

Indian Dal with Rice and Raita

Indian Dal with Rice and Raita

Indian Dal (serves 6)

1 cup of red lentils

3 cups of water (plus more if needed)

1 cup of onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ tbsp of fresh ginger, minced

½ tsp of turmeric (adds a bit more color and flavor to this dish)

1 tsp of curry powder mix (South Indian Curry if you have available)

1 tsp of sea salt

1 large serrano or jalapeno, chopped small

2 tomatoes, chopped small (canned is fine)

Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Cooked long grain rice, to serve with (**I usually use basmati rice for this, but I was out when I made this, so I subbed jasmine rice instead.)

First; in a 4 quart pot place your lentils, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, curry, and sea salt. Place the pot over medium heat, partially covered with a lid, and bring it to a simmer until the lentils have doubled in size and it appears to have thickened a bit – about 40 minutes.

Next; to the pot add your tomato, and chili. Let it simmer together about 10 – 15 more minutes. Your tomato will begin to break down and the contents of the pot will thicken up a bit more. At this time you will want to taste it and adjust your seasoning a bit. Also, it is at this point that you can add a bit more water to it all if you feel it is too thick.

Then, remove from heat and puree in batches. You can puree the whole pot if you would like a smooth soup, but if your can also only puree half of it if you would like a bit more texture to the overall dish. When finished pureeing return to the pot until ready to serve.

Finally, when ready to serve you can rewarm the Dal over low heat until warm and heated through. Serve with the rice, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, and the Raita (recipe to follow).

Raita (makes about 1 ½ cups)

¾ cup of cucumber, chopped small (English or Persian cucumbers work fine)

2 green onions, finely chopped (light green and white parts)

2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro

2 tsp of chopped fresh mint

½ – ¾ cup of plain Greek yogurt

Sea Salt to taste

First, in a small bowl combine all of the above and stir until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Finally, when ready to serve give the mixture another stirring and taste to adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more sea salt or a pinch of sugar if you feel it is needed and serve.

Jun 06

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

Cherries are back in season.  Excuse me as I bow down to the cherry gods to give thanks for these perfect, little orbs of deliciousness. I wait all year for the cherries to show up at the local markets, and come down in price. As tempting as they may seem at first sight, the prices can be a bit crazy. So as soon as they come down to a somewhat moderate level I jump at the chance to bring them home and enjoy them.

I picked up a few handfuls of cherries two weeks ago at the farmer’s market. Unfortunately, I ran short on time for what I had planned with them. When I came home from work ready to bake with them – Brian said he had tossed them in the compost that morning. They were as he explained: mushy and moldy. I am the only one to blame, but I was disappointed. I was planning on making muffins with them. Not just any muffin, but a double chocolate one with the cherries chopped and folded in.

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries

So the next day I went off to the market, and I picked up more cherries. I was determined. I was going to make those muffins! And I did! I melted down some chocolate with butter and buttermilk. The buttermilk was used to keep these muffins extra moist, and with just the right amount of chocolate these muffins were chocolaty without being overly sweet.  The contrast the fresh cherries bring an element of brightness along with a sweet sourness to the moist chocolate muffins.

After baking these up I must say, there were delicious, and impressive. Brian went back for seconds! I packed up the remainder and sent them to work with Brian, and when he came home he said they were a big hit. I can see why, I had to hold myself back after just one. I could have easily eaten three. These are a lightly sweet, and I can see them enjoyed with tea or coffee any time of day, but I really think they would be perfect gracing the table of a brunch. It would be the perfect little gratification to a menu of more breakfast like / savory items. I am so glad we will have at least a month or two of these perfect little fruits to enjoy. I’m sure you can find me making these again.

These muffins were delicious, and the fresh cherries were warm and extra tasty in them.

These muffins were delicious, and the fresh cherries were warm and extra tasty in them.

Double Chocolate Muffins with Fresh Cherries (makes 12)

*Note: this recipe will make 12 regular sized muffins. They make look a bit short in the picture, but that is only because I only had large muffin wrappers.

3 oz butter

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp of vanilla extract

7 oz bittersweet chocolate (70 %), chopped small

2 eggs

1 1/3 cup of AP flour

½ cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¾ tsp sea salt

1 ½ cup of cherries, pitted and chopped into quarters

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Using cupcake liners or wrappers, place them inside the cups of a muffin / cupcake pan and set aside.

Next, in a small sauce pan place your butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and 3 oz of your chocolate in the pan over medium heat. Stirring it constantly until the chocolate and butter have melted and are smooth. Remove from the heat, and let it cool slightly. Once cool whisk in eggs and set aside.

Then, in a bowl place your flour, cocoa, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Whisk it all together and then slowly add in your chocolate mixture until it is just combined. (Do not over mix, it will make the muffins tough and / or dry.) Once combined fold in the remainder of the chocolate (4 oz) and the chopped cherries until they are just barely mixed in.

Finally, divide the batter evenly among the lined pan and bake about 20 minutes, rotating it half way through. Test to be sure the muffins are done by inserting a sharp knife into the center of one or two. The knife should remove cleanly but a bit moist. Let the muffins cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pan and serving. Can be made a day ahead but best enjoyed within the day they are baked.

Jun 03

New Jersey visit and a salad to recover.

I am back after a week long visit with family in New Jersey. Both Brian and I grew up in Bergan County, New Jersey; and it is where our parents still reside. Over the last several years Brian’s brother and his family have moved an hour away, and in the last few so has my sister. She also lives about an hour away (in and opposite direction from Brian’s brother) with her family. So even though we visit for a week, we spend it traveling back and forth along Northern New Jersey trying to see and spend personal time with them all. It is great to see everyone, but there is never enough time to catch up with everyone.

Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

I will say that our time with the family on this trip was well spent. I had two days with my sister and her family. We got to meet our newest little niece, Noelle (10 months old).That was thrilling; staring at this chubby, curly haired little one and noticing that everything she looks at seems to fascinate her. Noelle’s older sister Gia (6 years old) has recently formed quite an interest in cooking and baking – yes, I am thrilled! I promised I would bake with her during our visit, and we did just that. I showed her how to make made French bread; she was amazed by working with yeast and learning about it. She took the bowl of dough that was wrapped for resting and rising to show her mom and my parents. Whispering to them – “It’s the yeast in there. It is working to rise the bread.” We also had to make cookies, as I brought her a new cookbook all about cookies. Of all the recipes she picked out Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies …a girl after my own heart.  The days went by too fast, but we cherished every second we had.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

On another night we went to Brian’s brother’s home to eat dinner. Brian’s niece, Lora (13 years old), told us about the latest trends in fashion (she is a little fashionista).  Lora then asked us about gnocchi. She remembered eating them and thought it was with us. We were not sure if we did, but Brian explained to her that I make them and they are not too difficult to make. A couple of days later we were in his parent’s kitchen rolling out gnocchi dough from scratch. It was fun to show her how to make them and I think she was impressed how easy it was. She asked a lot of good questions about the process, but more than anything I am so happy Brian and I got to spend that time with her. We then all sat around the table feasting on gnocchi and sharing family stories. It was a good time, and many memories were made. (Recipe for the gnocchi can be found here, and the tomato sauce can be found here.)

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

The Gnocchi Lora an I made.

The finished Gnocchi Lora an I made.

Besides the back and forth with family across the northern half of New Jersey, we did escape for a day to New York City. We spent a few hours in the Guggenheim, stopped in at a favorite bakery, finally got to drink some really great coffee (I’ve lived the Pacific Northwest too long and we are spoiled here when it comes to coffee. We toured Chelsea Market, and then in the evening we got together with some of Brian’s old high school friends. It was a great evening together, and while we were there we realized that we have not all been in the same room together for 13 years! We made up for the lost time, laughing and catching up on life. It was time extremely well spent.

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

By the time we got home to Seattle we were exhausted. The week went by like a cool breeze on a warm day. It was enjoyable, yet too quick. Before we knew it the time was gone, and our regular life started back up. We had a great time with all our visiting, but I think we ate way too much! I walked to the market and picked up some really nice seasonal veggies and felt that a hearty salad was in order. We needed the boost of veggies after the crab heavy diet we indulged in while we visited. We ate one too many pasta dishes, pastries, bagels, gnocchi, pizza, ice cream, and more. I guess that is what vacation is all about? So in the meantime Brian and I will be happy with a hearty salad or two. This particular one was great with fresh asparagus that was just picked from a local farm, sweet English peas, and a tarragon dressing. The brightness of the fresh tarragon gives this salad more depth than any ordinary oil and vinegar dressing. If you are like us and needed the break from all the heavy eating you will not be disappointed. It was light and fulfilling. I am missing the family and few friends we got to catch up with. (And there were so many we didn”t get to see.) Hopefully it will not be too long before we see them again, but will eat more veggies in prep for our next trip!

Hearty  vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Hearty vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Tarragon Dressing (serves 4)

**Note: if fresh peas are not available, feel free to use the frozen ones. They will work out just fine.

½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 cup fresh peas

1 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp mayo

2 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp Sherry vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

4-5 leaves of lettuce (romaine or green leaf), chopped small

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

First; place a pot of salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil. Next, cook you quinoa to its packaged instructions. When quinoa is done cooking place in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Next; in a bowl place your mayo, Dijon, tarragon, shallot, garlic, and sherry vinegar in a bowl. Whisk it all together then slowly add in the olive oil. Your dressing should become thick and emulsified. Season it with sea salt and black pepper and set aside. At this time your salted water should be boiling. Place your asparagus and peas into the boiling water. Let them al simmer together about 3 minutes. You veggies will turn bright green and be cooked perfectly. Strain the veggies into a colander and rinse several times under cold water to chill the veggies and stop their cookie process.

Then; toss the veggies and the quinoa with a bit of the dressing. Again season with sea salt and black pepper if you feel it needs it.

Finally, upon serving place the lettuce across the bottom of your platter. Pile the dressed quinoa and veggies over the top of it. Sprinkle it all with the crumbled goat cheese. And drizzle with the remaining dressing if you like.

May 14

Savory Scones (with Goat Cheese, Dill, and Pistachios)

I am currently sitting in the airport, awaiting my flight. Unfortunately, I have been waiting quite a while. Runway construction at our destination is limiting the amount of aircrafts to land at the moment leaving us all to sit and wait….and wait. I have exhausted my Facebook scanning, Instagram picture looking, and reading the news. I don’t really want to crack into the magazines I have brought with me, because what will I read on my flight? Then I remembered I had a recipe to share on here. Recently, again time had gotten away from me to let me sit down and write- but this is as good a time as any.

Freshly baked Savory Scones cooling on my window sill before dinner.

Freshly baked Savory Scones cooling on my window sill before dinner.

I was making dinner the other night and in an effort to keep it light and make use of what I had in the refrigerator I decided to make a savory scone along with a salad. The salad was just greens and carrots, simply dressed; but it was the savory scone I felt was worthy of telling you all about. I had buttermilk and goat cheese I wanted to make use of before they expired so a scone seemed like a logical way to go. I know I could have made a buttermilk dressing and crumbled goat cheese over the top of the salad, but where it the fun in that? One of the things I enjoy most is opening up the refrigerator and pantry and figuring out the challenge that waits me.

Scones after being brushed with buttermilk, awaiting their baking.

Scones after being brushed with buttermilk, awaiting their baking.

According to Brian, I make damn good scones and biscuits. There really is not much difference between a scone and a biscuit. Yes, there are a variety of recipes out there so to some I can see how you might disagree in that statement. I have seen recipes use anything from baking leavners, yeast, and starters. There are different grades of flour, liquids, and fats that can be used. In all the varieties the base of the recipe is always the same- you cut your fat into your flour and then moisten it with a liquid. In my opinion it is how you treat them while doing this that will result you in having a terrific final product. I find that keeping you fat (in this case butter) ice cold and using a food processor to cut it through your flour is best. Placing it all in a bowl and tossing with your hands while adding in your liquid is best. It is this way the mixture can be handled as delicately as you wish along with being sure it all gets hydrated with your liquid evenly. After mixing it by hand I sprinkled the crumbled goat cheese over it all along with some chopped fresh dill, and pistachios. My savory scones were just about on their way.

After patting out the dough, cutting them into their desired size and shapes they were almost done. I brush the tops of them with some buttermilk and placed them in the oven to bake. As they baked the wonderful aroma filled our apartment of butter and dill. Once they were done we sat down with our salad and savory scones. The bits of goat cheese had melted and settled nicely among the light layers of the scones. It was a delicate flavor and the bits of cheese, dill, and pistachios were a nice compliment to the salad. I will admit that I indulged in one with some quince preserve spread across it as well. These scones were so delicious I was afraid I would eat them all. So Brian and I packed up the majority of the leftovers and took them to work with us to share. They were devoured and enjoyed by others and that makes me happy. Feeding others something as delicious as these makes me smile and my waistline happy. Otherwise they would have all ended up in my mouth over time.

Savory Scone...dinner is served!

Savory Scone…dinner is served!

Savory Scone (about 16 – 18 scones)

*Note: the amount of scones you make can vary depending on the sizing that you cut them into shape. You can easily make these smaller or thinner for your liking, although you will have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

1 pound of butter, cold and cut into small pieces

4 ½ cps AP flour

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp sugar

1 ½ cups buttermilk

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of a food processors (fitted with a dough blade if you have one) place your flour, sea salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. Over the top of you ingredients place you cold butter and pulse the mixture until you butter is cut up amongst the flour mixture and no bigger than the size of a pea.

Next, place all the contents from the food processor into a large bowl. Pour about a third of your buttermilk into the mixture. With your hand, gently toss it all together. Repeat this with the remaining buttermilk, a bit at a time. You are looking for the mixture to be crumbly and moist. The mixture should hold together when squeezed with your hand. If not you can add a bit more of buttermilk to moisten it all. But remember, you are not looking for very wet dough, just something that would hold together when squeezed.

Then; over your mixture sprinkle your goat cheese, dill, and pistachios and toss it again lightly. On a floured work space place your dough and lightly sprinkle it with a bit more flour. Pat it down with your hands and fold the dough onto itself twice. Then gently shape your dough into one long rectangle. Patting it down and lightly working it with your hands making sure the dough is even in height. You are looking for it to be about 1 inch in hieght. With a knife or a bench scraper cut your dough evenly into squares or rectangles (about 4 by 4 inches), and then again across each one on the diagonal, making triangles.

Finally, place your cut dough onto a lined baking sheet and brush the tops of your scones with a bit of buttermilk. Place in the center of your oven for about 30 minutes, rotating it half way through. When they are slightly golden and firm to the touch they are ready to come out. Let cool about 15 minutes before eating.

May 05

Olive and Parsley Sauce

I hate it when I look back at the week (okay, past two weeks) and wonder…Where did it go? That is what I am feeling like right now. It really seems like I have worked and come home, turned around and did it again. But then I remember that we did just come back from a weekend getaway in Portland, Oregon; and I did recently go out and have dinner with my old coworkers and friends. Plus we got to visit with my friends and their new baby. So I have done more than just work, it is just that it has been so compacted that I have not had time to stop and reflect on it.

I did get a moment this past weekend. Brian and I were running errands and stopped in a cafe for a snack and a glass of wine, it was a lovely break. We caught up with ourselves and were talking about all that we have been doing and where we are going. Brian reminded me that I have yet to post the recipe made him for the dinner I the other night. He said he really enjoyed it…As did I, although; his was with steak and mine with tofu. It was after we came back from our trip from Portland indulging in one rich and decadent food item after another. We needed a light and satisfying meal. One that was brightly flavorful packed with protein, and light in our belly.

I whipped up a simple and purely flavored Olive and Parsley sauce. It was quick and simple to make and would honestly go great with just about anything really. You just toss it all into a food processor and puree. Place it in the refrigerator to marinate together as you grill your protein of choice and you are done. I had some radishes that I sliced and tossed them along with the combo, but feel free to omit them if you like. I just personally felt the bright and peppery crispness from radish complimented the briny flavor of the olives in this sauce, they also and had a contrast to the richness of the steak I made for Brian. But feel free to mix it with whatever you like. We indulged with some cheesy toast, but again you can eat with it what you like. Just be sure to take your time to enjoy it.

Parsley and Olive Sauce, with grilled Steak and some Radishes. (yes, my streak was slightly overcooked, but I tried!)

Olive and Parsley Sauce (makes about 2 cups)

2 cups fresh parsley leaves

1 ½ cups green Sicilian olives, pitted

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

Juice of 1 lime or lemon

½ cup of olive oil

Sea salt for seasoning

First; in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment place your parsley, olives, shallot, garlic, and jalapeno – pulse it a few times to break it all down. You are looking to just chop it a bit, not puree.

Next, add in a bit of your olive oil and pulse a few more times. Once the olive oil is incorporated add the remainder in a steady stream with the processor running. When finished turn off. Your mixture should be broken down but not too pasty like. Remove your blade and stir in your lemon or lime juice. Place in a clean bowl covered in plastic in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Finally, remove the sauce from the refrigerator and taste. You may want to season it with some sea salt depending on how salty your olives were. When ready, spoon your sauce onto your plate and place sliced protein over it. If using. Sprinkle your radishes over it all and enjoy.

 

NOTES: This sauce keeps well covered in the refrigerator for up to one week. I will be honest and I enjoyed a bit of its leftovers tossed with pasta a couple of days later.

Apr 29

French Almond Macaroons, just the way I made them at my bakery.

When I had my bakery I was looking to make a new addition in the cookie department of our standard menu. We had been open a little more than a year and I felt the menu needed something new. I struggled long and hard over what to add. I went through countless books, scrolled the internet, tested a few recipes, and was left feeling really unsure. You see my cookies were popular…sometimes too popular, but that is another story. Picking just one recipe was hard; picking the perfect addition was even harder. It was not until I was slicing a piece of our Flourless Chocolate Cake (it was topped with dark chocolate ganache and some gold leafing that intrigued everyone) for a customer that I knew what kind of cookie to add, and it was going to be flourless.

French Almond Macaroons, sandwiched with Dark Chocolate Ganache

French Almond Macaroons, sandwiched with Dark Chocolate Ganache

A French Almond Macaroon would be a perfect addition to our menu. They were light and airy, with a slight chew in its texture. Now a traditional French Almond Macaroons are usually made in various flavor, colors to match, and also have many fillings. Traditionally the fillings are an Italian Buttercream of sorts, but I felt that was a bit too sweet for our bakery and opted for the dark chocolate ganache instead. Also, by keeping the cookie a plain and natural Almond base, when it was sandwiched it looked somewhat like a hamburger. I thought the cookies were so cute to look at, while being fun to eat.

Each morning I would bake off a batch and would wait for it to cool and shortly before we would open for business each day I would sandwich two of them together with a dollop of dark chocolate ganache.

Filling the Almond Macaroons, just like when I had my bakery.

Filling the Almond Macaroons, just like when I had my bakery.

When they caught on and gained a fan base with my customers it was sometimes hard to make them fast enough for them. They developed a following of loyal customers.

Fast forward to this past week – Brian and I went to Portland get away for a couple days .While we were there we got to visit and catch up with one of our old costumers and now friend that is a chef there. We got to gossip about the food scene, caught up on each other’s lives, had a few drinks, ate a really great meal, and low and behold my he began to tell me all the reasons he loved my cookies! Of all the cookies his favorite was the French Almond Macaroon. He explained how he felt the texture was just right, that these cookies had a nice light chew, and how the chocolate center finished it off well. I was touched to hear I left such an impression on him…but I will admit these cookies are that good. They are downright—Powerful! That is when I told him one of my secrets about these cookies. I increased the amount of almond that goes into the cookie so that the overall taste would be less sweet and have more mouth feel to them. I later told him I will write up the recipe here so that he and his friends can give it a try. Maybe you will too. Once again a good cookie is powerful, but I will take the good company and catching up with a friend over them any day. I can always make these cookies; you cannot just whip up a friendship with someone who loves food just as much as I do!?!

It was fun making these again. I am really happy for the memories they have crated with my customers.

It was fun making these again. I am really happy for the memories they have crated with my customers.

French Almond Macaroons (from the Sweet Pea – bakery and catering)

*Makes about 28 – 36 cookies depending on the size you pipe them out.

1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

1 1/3 cup almond meal or almond flour (see notes below)

3 large egg whites

¼ cup of sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache (recipe to follow)

First, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Have ready a piping bag fitted with a round tip that has about a ½ inch opening to it. You will also need to have your baking sheets lined with parchment paper or Silplats if you have them.

Next, in a large bowl add your almond meal / almond flour and powdered sugar and whisk it together. In another bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer place your egg whites and begin to whip them until they become foamy. Once foamy, begin to whip on a high speed and slowly add the sugar. You are looking for the egg to at least double in volume and hold a medium to soft peak. Then stir in your vanilla extract.

Then, place half your whipped egg into your bowl with the almond and powdered sugar mixture. Fold it together until you have lightened up the almond mixture. Add the remaining egg whites and fold together until the mixture is light, yet smooth.

Afterwards, you will fill your pastry bag with your mixture and pipe out anywhere from the size of a nickel to a quarter. Be sure not to leave a peek when piping, you can tap you pan gently to see if your peeks fall. Or with a slightly damp finger you can push them down. Place them in oven for about 25 minutes rotating them half way through. I found that depending on the batch they might need 5 – 10 minutes extra time, it might vary. Before pulling them out you want to see the cookies you piped are firm, set in place, and will lift from your lined pan when pulled.

Finally, let the cookies cool about 10 minutes before sandwiching with the ganache. Once you sandwich the cookies let them sit about 15 minutes to be sure the ganache has set before serving. Can be made ahead of time and wrapped in plastic to hold. Can be refrigerated once wrapped, and best not to sit longer than two days. I personally think these cookies taste best when eaten at room temperature.

Chocolate Ganache

5 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using. You are looking for the ganache to be smooth touched but hold its shape when dropped or piped.

NOTES: I know that the Almond Meal or Almond Flour may not be the easiest to find, but I do see it more frequently than years ago. Trader Joe’s has a version, so does Bob’s Red Mill, but I have even seen it pop up in the bulk section of stores like Whole Foods. Sometimes it will be blond in color and that is perfect. Sometimes it will be speckled with brown and that is fine too. It is just the skin of the almond in there. If you still cannot find any Almond Meal or Almond Flour you can make your own. Take whole or slivered blanched almonds and pulse them in a food processor until finely ground. Then sift the mixture so that you have a somewhat even texture remaining. If there are larger bits of almond left in the sifter you can toss them away.

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